That’s the only conclusion you can draw from Tuesday’s council meeting. Thanks to the Feckless Five (Council President Keith King and Councilors Helen Collins, Don Knight, Joel Miller and Andy Pico), Council stripped away funding from both the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. Council withheld half of the 66 percent share of the Lodging and Automobile Rental Tax (LART) that has been traditionally allocated to the city’s destination marketing organization (DMO). Instead of $2.6 million, the CVB apparently will have to make do with $1.3 million.
Similarly, the Regional Business Alliance lost all of its $240,000 in funding from Colorado Springs Utilities, as well as half of the $70,000 allocated from LART.
Not content with infuriating the business community, Council then turned its wrath upon the do-gooders of the nonprofit world. Believing that beleaguered ratepayers shouldn’t be asked to support CSU’s community investment fund, Council directed that the municipally owned company terminate the program. Too bad for the dozens of charitable and nonprofit organizations that have benefited from CSU’s support – and goodbye to the notion that a billion-dollar corporation, whether publicly or privately owned, ought to give back to the larger community.
Council made some vague promises to re-examine funding for the CVB and the Business Alliance, but representatives of the two organizations were angry and dismayed.
CVB board chair Alicia McConnell, also a U.S. Olympic Committee executive, didn’t mince words.
”High unemployment of 8.2 percent continues to plague Colorado Springs,” she said in an email Wednesday morning. “After 18 months of devastating fires and floods to our City and region, accompanied by sensational headlines seen around the world, it is unconscionable for City Council to cut funding to the one organization that businesses depend on to bring tourists to the area. Business owners and their employees that depend on tourists to support their livelihoods will feel the consequences of City Council’s vote yesterday to slash CVB funding for 2014 by $1.3M.
“I and the members of the CVB Board of Directors urge City Council to do the right thing for the Colorado Springs economy and adopt the recommendation from their own citizen-led LART advisory committee to fully fund the Convention & Visitors Bureau for 2014. Jobs depend on it.”
Other business leaders were just as upset. Broadmoor CEO Steve Bartolin made his position clear in a devastating exchange of emails with Keith King and other members of the council majority.
Bartolin said in a message to Council: “I am not aware of any collective experience any of you have in this field,” calling Council’s decision “incredibly unwise.” He accused Council of “jeopardizing the overall tourism marketing effort for the Pikes Peak Region (and) having an effect on our business and every hotel, motel, attraction and restaurant in our town.”
Bartolin also called into question Council’s grasp of the issues, and apparent unfamiliarity with the facts.
Here’s the exchange, beginning with the text of a letter Bartolin sent to King and other members of Council on Nov. 26.
“Our Vice President of Marketing and our Director of Sales attended yesterday’s Council meeting during the discussion on the CVB budget.
“I would like to provide you with input and make four important points.
“1. Tourism marketing is vitally important for our business and the overall economy of the Pikes Peak region. We all saw firsthand what happened when the State of Colorado drastically reduced tourism promotion. It was not a good outcome and it took years to rebound once promotions began again.
“2. Professional tourism and convention marketing are not for amateurs. Like any business, you have to really understand the industry and its nuances. Doug Price was a Senior Sales and Marketing Executive on a corporate level with Marriott Corporation for many years. Thereafter he headed the National Association that other CEOs of Convention and Visitor Bureaus belong to. He knows what he is doing.
“3. I understand it was brought up about outsourcing the CVB. This is precisely what you are doing by having a CVB. As far as having the services the CVB provides bid out, this is not like hiring an advertising agency. They provide a much more comprehensive sales and marketing strategy for both tourism promotion and meeting and convention industry sales. If this were a good idea I think you could find at least one other city in America that does it that way and I don’t believe you will.
“4. Since it is our industry that is being taxed and, in our case, The Broadmoor is accountable for 1/3 of the entire tax, our input should count for something. My suggestion is, leave this to the professionals and make sure they are fully funded and have the tools and resources to do their job.
“Stephen Bartolin, Jr.
“President and CEO”
And here’s King’s response, written Tuesday evening after Council’s decision to defund the CVB.
“Steve, thanks for the letter. We passed the LART budget at the 50 percent level and decided to leave the rest to the LART committee for recommendations. We are very concerned about the effectiveness of the program and how it is increasing tourism and economic development. We are committed to both and that is why we are taking a serious look at it. I know you have a very effective marketing strategy, and also have an employee on the LART committee. I think it would be great if the Broadmoor would evaluate the media buys and compare that to what you believe is effective for the city. Keith”
And here’s Bartolin’s quick response.
“Keith, I am confused. You said you are returning the remainder of the budget over to the LART Committee. The LART Committee has already reviewed their budget and recommended full funding. Despite two fires and a flood, tourism is the one thing that has remained stable. What a terrible disappointment. By the way, our VP of Marketing, Dennis Lesko, chairs the CVB Marketing Committee and has reviewed and approved their media buys. I will draft a more comprehensive letter to you and your fellow Council members.”
And here’s Bartolin’s “more comprehensive” letter.
“I received the attached email from Council President, Keith King, thanking me for my letter and recommendations and then advising me that you decided to cut 50% of the CVB budget ($1.3M) leaving the rest to the LART Committee for recommendations. He further expressed your concern over the “effectiveness of the program.” I am not aware of any collective experience any of you have in this field.
“First of all, the LART Committee has already reviewed the CVB budget and recommended full funding. Can anyone explain to me why then it would be turned over to them for recommendations?
“Secondly, President King suggested since we have a BROADMOOR staff member on the CVB Board that they review the media buys. That happens to be our Vice President of Marketing, Dennis Lesko, who chairs the CVB’s marketing committee and has already reviewed and approved the media buys.
“What you have done has repercussions that clearly you have not considered. You have jeopardized the CVB’s relationship with their ad agency since it leaves them uncertain about funding. You have jeopardized key staff members at the CVB in terms of wondering about their job security since you cut the funding in half. You have jeopardized their marketing strategy since they have to begin making media buys now and you have jeopardized the overall tourism marketing effort for the Pikes Peak Region having an effect on our business and every hotel, motel, attraction and restaurant in our town.
“We have been through two major fires and a flood, and tourism is the one thing that has held up in our economy. This is an incredibly unwise decision on the part of our City Council, who represents our community and those in one of our most valuable industries, tourism. The CVB’s mission is to bring more visitors to the Pikes Peak Region, therefore they support the City of Champions proposal. I would think you could disagree on that issue and let’s put the good of the community first, and not damage the entire tourism marketing for our City.”
It’ll be interesting to see what King does now. Will he cave right away, try to save face by stalling until after the New Year, or stick to his guns? It’s not often that you see elected officials kick sand in the faces of their most powerful supporters a few months after being elected, but that’s exactly what’s happening.
It’s hard to imagine that the business community will sit passively by until April 2017, and let Council’s majority gum up the works.
If King doesn’t change his ways, they’ll either have to live with him and his myrmidons until 2017, or go for the nuclear option: recall. It’s a grim prospect but, as three Democratic state senators in Colorado have learned to their sorrow, an effective tool for change.
Imagine a well-financed effort to oust King, who received far less than a majority of votes cast in his district. Potential recall supporters might find it easy to recruit an attractive alternative, and equally easy to paint King as a business-unfriendly eccentric, interested in power for power’s sake.
We live, it seems, in interesting times.